DUSTIN JOHNSON believes his two-stroke win in the inaugural Saudi International will stand him in good stead for another successful year.
The world No 3 came from one stroke down at the turn to fire a three-under-par final round of 67 and see off his nearest challenger Li Haotong.
The Chinese player had gone into the final 18 on a high after firing four eagles, including a record-breaking three eagle twos, in his third-round 62.
But he fell away over the second half yesterday, a birdie on the last just enough to see him hold onto second over England’s fast-finishing Tom Lewis, who hit a five-under-par final round of 65.
Johnson said: “It feels really good – any time you win a professional golf tournament, no matter where it is in the world, it is a big win.
“The things that I’ve been working on are working and I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement. I’m very pleased with where my game is at.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in what I’m doing and I feel like I’m hitting a lot of really good golf shots. It’s a big win and it gives me a lot of confidence going into the rest of the year.”
Johnson and Li went into the final round level, but two early birdies gave the Chinese player the advantage at the turn.
It was a remarkable response from Li, who seven days earlier had been handed a two-stroke penalty at the Dubai Desert Classic for a breach of controversial new alignment rules.
Just when Johnson looked to have wrested the initiative he hit his tee shot into the water at the short 16th and was forced to take a drop, holing a subsequent bogey putt that saw his lead cut to one.
But Johnson responded with consecutive birdies on the final two holes to secure his first European Tour win, and one that the vanquished Li did not begrudge.
Li said: “I think he deserved to win this event. But I learned a lot and especially those last few holes were good for me.”
Lewis finished three shots off the lead after a blazing start to his final round, recording five consecutive birdies over the first five holes.
Yet his round was eclipsed by South Korea’s Lee Min-woo, who finished a stroke further back after his second consecutive seven-under-par 63.
A four-under-par final round made Ian Poulter the next best-placed Briton in sixth, while Bradley Dredge and Ross Fisher were in a share of 13th.
Former Masters champion Sergio Garcia looks set to escape further punishment following his shock disqualification from the event.
Garcia was disqualified for “serious misconduct” under rule 1.2a after admitting to damaging greens on the front nine of Royal Greens Golf & Country Club during Saturday’s third round. It is far from Garcia’s first brush with authority and led to calls on social media for the 39-year-old to face a hefty fine or suspension, but European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said: “The incident is over. We have dealt with it. Sergio has apologised to the players and we move on.”
In a statement Garcia said: “I respect the decision of my disqualification. In frustration, I damaged a couple of greens, for which I apologise, and I have informed my fellow players it will never happen again.”